Seoul may appoint civilian as defense minister

Posted on : 2006-08-03 11:39 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Non-military head would be first since military coup in 1961
 the presidential office.
the presidential office.

The presidential office and the ruling Uri Party are pushing forward a plan to appoint a civilian expert, rather than a military general, as defense minister, for the first time since a military coup placed Park Chung Hee in power on May 16, 1961.

According to sources at the presidential office and in the ruling Uri Party on Aug. 2, key Uri officials are increasingly talking about the need of hiring a civilian as the defense minister to President Roh Moo-hyun and the possibility is high for the president to accept such suggestions, they said.

The move coincides with the president's recent order for his office to review the principles and future direction of top posts for security and diplomacy, including head of the National Intelligence Service, and the foreign and defense ministers. The review comes ahead of a planned government personnel shakeup during the second half of this year. With regard to the proposals of appointing a civilian to the defense minister, the president's reaction is not known.

A source familiar with the situation said, "To efficiently manage the annual defense budget worth more than 22 trillion won (23 billion USD), it is time to appoint a CEO-type minister. Generals-turned-ministers have not been freed from the military establishment…Therefore, there was a limit to the amount of military reform they could accomplish, as well as [a limit in their] efficiency in budget spending."

Recently, current defense minister Yoon Kwang-ung publicly expressed his opinion for the need to pick a civilian-turned-minister. In a press conference on July 27 to mark the second anniversary of his taking the post, he said, "Since I served for a defense secretary in the early stages of the current administration, I have thought that a civilian could be appointed as a defense minister. I have not changed my mind." However, Yoon said, "A civilian-turned-minister should know the tasks of the defense ministry well. Given [the ministry's] relationship with media and the National Assembly, I think it would be a good job for a lawmaker to do."

President Roh and his office had considered appointing a civilian as the defense minister before Yoon's appointment in July 2004.

After the current government's inauguration in 1948, some civilians were named to the top post of the defense ministry, including Lee Ki-boong, Kim Yong-woo, Hyun Seok-ho, and Kwon Joong-dong. But since the May 16 coup, military generals have always held the job of defense minister.

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